Bidding Adieu to a Great Mentor

The Star,  Oct 1, 2017

SHE spent the last four years helming SMK Convent Bukit Nanas and it is obvious that principal Nirmala S.S. Nathan has left a lasting impact on her staff and students. The school’s board of governors chairman Dr Indrani Manuel described Nathan as a down-to-earth person who handled the jump from teaching in a boys’ school to an all-girls school “very well.” Nathan first became principal and stepped foot in the 118-year old school in April 2014.

She was previously a senior assistant at SMK (L) Methodist, Kuala Lumpur.

“She had to adopt a more gentle approach when disciplining the girls, when she first came to the school.” However, gentle did not mean she was a pushover and her staff and students knew it. Dr Manuel also said that Nathan worked hard to push for one schooling session and that from next year onwards, the school will have a single session. “It is a shame she will not be around to enjoy it,” she said, adding that this will greatly benefit the students and teachers.

To accommodate having everyone in one session, the number of classes have been reduced to six per form. The school will also utilise the empty classrooms left by the former Form Six students. The school’s board of governors member Vimala Mathews said: “Nirmala was a blessing to the school.” Meanwhile, the school’s senior assistant (student affairs) Ros Abza Ahmad described Nathan as very committed. “She was always punctual and present during our daily assemblies,” she said. This, she added, motivated the teachers to be punctual as well. “She also stayed on late, until 4pm or 5pm each day to monitor the afternoon sessions.”

The school’s senior assistant (administration and academic) Suzieany Mohammed Harris said she learnt many things including leadership and accountability from Nathan during the three years they worked together. “There were challenges but she steered through all these with her firmness and strong principles, and I respect her for that.” Her students from Form 5B said they are going to miss having Nathan conduct their English lessons.

Francesca Nira Lim Nie Huei, 17, said she has been teaching them English since Form Four. Her classmate Abbygail Ong Yuen Mun added: “She’s very passionate when it comes to teaching and always shares her life stories or movies she’s watched to keep lessons interesting.” “She watches many movies including those on James Bond!

“Her stories tend to focus on things that we can learn from, even coming-of-age movies.” Sharifah Zeynah Alhadab Syed Zaid, 17, share that Nathan “was funny but strict.” “She also loved to bring up the school motto ‘Simple in virtue, steadfast in duty’ to remind us of what we’re supposed to be doing as students and young members of society.”

She would walk around the school, pop into classes and ask the students “Who is accountable for learning?” During the daily assemblies, Nathan would remind the girls that “learning is your responsibility but teaching is mine and your teachers.” Just like all her staff and students, Nathan said she was going to miss being in the school. “The students here are very intelligent and it’s rewarding to teach them. “They’re so responsive and engaging in class,” she added.

It took her a short while to adjust from teaching in a boys’ school to a girls’ school, especially when it came to disciplinary matters. “Here, it was enough to give the girls a demerit. It is normally enough to stop them from repeating the act again. “It’s not about punishing. A child must realise that what she has done is unacceptable and as long as there’s a realisation, then it’s mission accomplished.”

Nathan said she sought advice from senior teachers to learn how things were carried out at SMK Convent Bukit Nanas as it is a school with very rich traditions and history. There were things she changed, or as she puts it “reinvented” to make it more efficient without removing the “essence of the school.” Her plans on retirement include travelling, catching up on her reading and gardening.

She hopes to spend more time with both her daughters who are currently pursuing their Master’s degrees in Australia. Although the board of governors have not decided on the next principal, Nathan has one piece of advice for her successor.

“As a school head, you cannot sit on a pedestal. “You have to be with the students and teachers.”

During a farewell held recently, there were many performances as the girls of SMK Convent Bukit Nanas bid adieu to their principal. These included a violin performance by its alumni, dances and a choir session.

The school’s gymasts also performed at the farewell. Almost all of the performances featured songs from one of Nathan’s favourite singers, Adele.